Sunday, March 19, 2006

No remedy for expired gift cards in Ohio

Dawson v. Blockbuster, Inc., 2005 WL 3869181 (Ohio App. 8 Dist.)

Appellant Dawson sued Blockbuster based on 3 expired gift cards Blockbuster refused to honor. He argued that the expiration dates – which mean that Blockbuster can just keep money without rendering any goods or services – violate Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, constitute fraudulent concealment and unjust enrichment, and breach the implied convenant of good faith and fair dealing.

The court of appeals upheld the trial court’s rejection of his claims. Essentially, Dawson isn’t a consumer because he received the cards as gifts, and anyway he should have read the terms on the cards. The only really notable thing about the case is that the opinion says that, since the interpretation of Ohio’s DTPA is supposed to track that of the Lanham Act and the Lanham Act doesn’t give consumers standing, neither does Ohio’s DTPA. It’s not clear that the CSPA and the DTPA prohibit different things with respect to false advertising, so it may not make a substantive difference.

The dissenter reasoned persuasively that, while gifts generally may not make the recipient a covered “consumer” under the CSPA, a gift card does, because it requires a further interaction with the seller. While concluding that the practice of having balances on gift cards expire quickly is unconscionable, the dissenter felt bound to hold that Dawson had no remedy in the absence of a specific state law.

More on what those specific state laws might be here, here and here. Apparently Blockbuster should have sent at least some of that money on to the state's unclaimed property fund, unless it's okay for Blockbuster to charge a fee for every month the card is unused and drain it that way. I had no idea.

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